Adult Stem Cells

New research by a team at the University of South Carolina has discovered a way to increase the body’s ability to heal after injury. The study led by Assistant Professor of Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine, has proved that adult stem cells will enter an alert state when the body sustains an injury. These “alerted” stem cells have a greater ability to repair and heal damaged tissues.

It is theorized that after an injury a person’s blood can produce a state of alert. Using lab mice, the researchers injected healthy mice with blood from their injured counterparts. The stem cells in the healthy mice went into a state of alert. The team then identified the enzyme Hepatocyte Growth Factor Activator (HGFA), as the chemical mechanism that signaled cells to an alert state. HGFA is always in the bloodstream but only activates when the body experiences an injury. The enzyme signals adult stem cells to enter this state of alert once an injury occurs.

The team then decided to see what would happen if an injury occurred while the adult stem cells were already in a state of alert. Healthy mice were injected with HGFA. A few days later the mice were given muscle and skin injuries. The test mice were observed to heal faster, regrow missing fur and after just nine days returned to running on exercise wheels sooner. Twenty days after the injuries, the mice that had been injected with HGFA had regenerated larger muscle fibers compared to the untreated mice.

The findings support the idea that the presence of HGFA in the bloodstream prepares the body to respond faster and more efficiently to an injury. The response was similar to how vaccines prepare the body to fight specific diseases. HGFA prepares the cells to respond to tissue damage. By “priming” the body, you can speed the process of tissue repair and recovery.

It is hoped that in the future people may be able to use HGFA prior to engaging in activities that might result in injury including sports, surgery and even combat. HGFA may also be able to be used therapeutically for people with compromised healing abilities. And this therapeutic approach may also be of value for the elderly. As we age, the body’s ability to heal itself slows down as stem cell activity diminishes with advancing age. The team posed the concept that it might be possible to restore youthful healing by activating the HGFA pathway!

Reference: Joseph T. Rodgers, Matthew D. Schroeder, Chanthia Ma, Thomas A. Rando. HGFA Is an Injury-Regulated Systemic Factor that Induces the Transition of Stem Cells into GAlert. Cell Reports, April 2017 DOI: 10.1016/j.celrep.2017.03.066

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